The emergency services are increasingly utilising technologies which are playing a major part in leading transformations within each of these organisations. In this post we take a closer look at just how far things have come and the opportunities that are on the horizon as the digital age accelerates.
We’d also love to hear your stories of how technology has changed working practices for the better across the emergency services. What has been the biggest change in technology that has had the most impact for you and your teams?
Use the hashtag #IRememberWhen on social media so that we can share your thoughts.
Most police forces around the UK provide their officers electronic devices to record statements, take notes at a scene and to access vital information, such as the Police National Computer (PNC) and even live criminal intelligence whilst in the field. Previously, officers would have used a notebook before returning to the station to type it out on a PC, print it, and then store it in a paper file – a time consuming and inefficient process.
Forces are also rolling out body-worn cameras and mobile fingerprint scanners that allow officers to identify people in the field, rather than having to return to the station. By recording data and intelligence digitally, police officers are speeding up this process and making it easier to access the data whenever it is needed. Operationally, this technology is enabling police forces to become more efficient in their day to day role of protecting the public.
In the future, it’s been speculated that citizens will be able to make statements to the police using home voice devices such as Amazon Echo or Google Home!
The arrival of the Emergency Services Network (ESN) will create a host of new possibilities. At present, all emergency services rely on a TETRA-based radio network because of its reliability, but ESN promises to ensure that officers can stay connected whilst accessing a range of rich applications that will support them in carrying out their roles.
Firefighting is an incredibly dangerous profession. However, new technologies are being introduced to help firefighters respond faster and make better judgements in life-threatening situations.
Sweden has recently provided its fire service with augmented reality helmets that promise to increase navigation speed by more than 260%. In smoke-filled rooms, a firefighter’s vision is substantially reduced. However, a C-THRU helmet uses thermal imaging to highlight obstacles and keep firefighters moving in a safer manner.
Vital information, such as temperature, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, are projected onto the screen where it is easily viewed during time-sensitive situations. Likewise, information and images can be fed back to a team outside of the building, allowing them to provide support and feedback throughout.
Closer to home, we have seen significant advances in personal protection equipment and the equipment carried on fire engines. The Air Support Unit/drone in Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, is an example of how science and technology has been developed to assist incident commanders in gathering risk critical information and situational awareness much quicker, which ultimately allows decision makers to make dynamic, critical decisions that lead to incidents being resolved much more effectively and safer than we’ve ever been able to do before.
Lancashire are also the first Fire and Rescue Service to introduce the new concept ‘Stinger’ fire engine. The Stinger fire engine is capable of piercing fire compartments with a mechanical boom on top of the fire engine which houses a mechanical spike piercing system. Through a remote control device, the firefighters can control the fire engines functions from a safe distance, without needing to risk firefighters’ safety.
Watch this short video on how Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s pioneering SAVE approach is transforming firefighting. The new approach includes greater use of state-of-the-art thermal imaging cameras to locate and assess a fire, and its dangers, before entering a building.
HFRS will be ensuring these cameras are widely distributed and using them will become part of the firefighting culture for both incident commanders and crew members who wear breathing apparatus.
Paramedics usually respond to emergency calls with no prior knowledge of an individual’s condition or medical history. Access to patient information including medication, allergies, medical history, care and crisis plans can make a critical difference and enable better, faster and safer patient care.
As a start, a Summary Care Record (SCR) containing medical histories provided by GPs should be easily accessible.
We know that paramedics need to be able to access information from multiple sources within the health and care system. Thankfully, there are many forward-thinking NHS trusts across the country working hard to close the information gap.
In Yorkshire and the Humber, work is underway to help Yorkshire Ambulance Services access patient information in transit and at the point of handover to Accident and Emergency services. To do this, information is being recorded electronically by paramedics for immediate use by hospital staff on arrival at A&E.
NHS England is working closely with all the ambulance trusts to improve the use of SCR’s and improving mobile and timely access to their data, in turn driving the benefits for patients and crews.
The Department of Health and Social Care are also working with local services on an initiative called the Local Health and Care Records Exemplar. This work involves finding better ways to transfer information between health and care services to make care handovers an easier and better-informed process.
Search and Rescue
The UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) began a trial of search and rescue drones in support of coastguard activities in May 2019.
The MCA has partnered with Essex Police and the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) to deploy a year-long trial of the drones, provided by Essex Police’s drones unit, who will be able to conduct search operations across dangerous areas of the coast and perform risk evaluations before human search and rescue teams are deployed. The trial is taking place along the coastline of Essex, with six local coastguard teams and six RNLI stations taking part.
At the end of the year-long pilot the impact that drones have had on coastal search and rescue activity in the region will be assessed, and that information will help inform the MCA and RNLI’s ongoing work to explore the role that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can play in future search and rescue activity.
A look to the connected future
Supporting a new, hyper-connected data sharing between responders and controllers will be refitted, 5G-enabled emergency vehicles. Today a police van, a fire engine or an ambulance is first and foremost a means of transportation for response teams to the site of an emergency and – particularly in the case of ambulances – a means of moving people away from danger to a place of safety and treatment.
With 5G, these vehicles will become rolling network centres; the central link in the chain that simultaneously allows personnel to communicate with each other on the ground, but also to send data they capture back to those in charge, who can then decide whether to send more support to an emergency whilst planning and preparing next stage activities should the need arise.
In the same way that most of us will only see the benefits of 5G when we upgrade to a 5G-capable smartphone or tablet, the emergency services will also have to upgrade their current vehicles and wearable tech.
Whatever the long-term savings (lives first and foremost, but also costs) in the short-term, that requires investment in the devices and training in their use – whether that’s a new communications protocol adapted for live-streaming video, or police or firefighters on the ground monitoring an area in real-time through a video link from one or more drones.
Learnings from the Emergency Services Network (ESN) deployment
Roll-out of technology is not always easy, as has been highlighted during the deployment of the ESN. The UK parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has recently highlighted a number of significant recommendations for the project going forward. These can be found here.
As of May 2019, the status of ESN was as follows:
>91% 4G Geographic Coverage
>400 New Micro Sites
>50 Special Coverage Sites built
>20,900 4G upgrades completed
33 Unique upgrades remaining
User testing ongoing with;
70 Million Data Points Captured
>600 Areas of Concern Reviewed
50+ Regional Coverage Reviews Scheduled
The Home Office has been tasked to set out, by October 2019 a detailed, achievable, integrated programme plan including a realistic date for turning off Airwave and the cost of any extension of Airwave that may be needed and update the Committee when this plan is ready. They have also been tasked with setting out the steps that it has taken to: improve senior oversight of the programme; ensure assumptions are subject to appropriate challenge; and to make sure the findings of independent assurance reviews are widely shared and taken seriously. And the last key recommendation is to ensure that the business case is revisited before the end of 2019 to ensure that ESN remains value for money whilst realising benefits.
We hope you found this blog informative and remember – we’d love to hear your stories using the hashtag #IRememberWhen on Social Media.
We regularly write about how new technologies can help emergency services and particularly control rooms. Here are a few related articles that you may find of interest:
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